The Senate has reintroduced a bill it abandoned under pressure last year through which it sought to impose the death penalty on “any person found guilty of any form of hate speech that results in the death of another person.”
The upper legislative chamber was last year forced to drop its first attempt to enact the law, following massive public outcry.
Tagged “National Commission For the Prohibition of Hate Speeches”, the bill is sponsored by the Deputy Chief Whip of the Senate, Abdullahi Aliu Sabi (APC, Niger State).
It was the 12th item on the Order Paper yesterday and was granted automatic first reading on the floor of the Senate.
The death penalty is the most severe punishment provided by the bill which defines hate speech as a comment that insults people for their religion, ethnic and linguistic affiliation, among others.
It stipulates: “Any person who commits an offence under this section shall be liable to life imprisonment and where the act causes any loss of life, the person shall be punished with death by hanging.”
On offences like harassment on the basis of ethnicity, racial contempt, the bill proposes not less than five-year jail term or a fine of not less than N10 million or both.
“A person who uses, publishes, presents, produces, plays, provides, distributes and /or directs the performance of, any material, written and/or visual which is threatening, abusive or insulting or involves the use of threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour commits an offence if such a person intends thereby to stir up ethnic hatred, or having regard to all the circumstances, ethnic hatred is likely to be stirred up against any person or person from such an ethnic group in Nigeria.”
According to the bill, “Conduct shall be regarded as having the effect specified in subsection (1)(a) or (b) of this Section if, having regard to all the circumstances, including in particular the perception of that other person, it should reasonably be considered as having that effect.
“A person who subjects another to harassment on the basis of ethnicity commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction to an imprisonment fora term not less than five years, or to a fine of not less than ten million naira, or to both.”
The bill, according to its sponsor, is aimed at ensuring the elimination of all forms of hate speeches; promoting the elimination of all forms of hate speeches against persons or ethnic groups; as well as advising the Federal Government on the matter.
Other situations which the bill condemns are when “a person subjects another to harassment on the basis of ethnicity for the purposes of this Section where, on ethnic grounds, he unjustifiably engages in a conduct which has the purpose or effect of violating that other person’s dignity; or creating an intimidating, degrading, hostile, humiliating or offensive environment for the person subjected to the harassment.”
The commission will be headed by an executive chairperson to be appointed by the President on the recommendation of the National Council of State, subject to the confirmation of at least two-thirds majority of the National Assembly.
Other functions of the commission include discouraging persons, institutions, political parties and associations from advocating or promoting discrimination or discriminatory practices through the use of hate speeches; promoting tolerance, understanding and acceptance of diversity in all aspects of national life and encouraging full participation by all ethnic communities in social, economic, cultural and political life of other communities.
It is also to plan, supervise, coordinate and promote educational and training programmes to create public awareness, support, and advancement of peace and harmony among ethnic communities and racial groups.
But the planned law is already eliciting criticism from some quarters.
Former vice president and presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the February 23, election, Atiku Abubakar, cautioned the Senate against promulgating the anti-hate speech bill into law.
In a statement by his media Adviser, Paul Ibe, yesterday evening, Atiku noted that those now toying with the idea of an anti-hate speech bill, with punishment by death should exercise much caution.
“The contemplation of such laws is in itself not just hate speech, but an abuse of the legislative process that will violate Nigerians’ constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of speech.
“Those behind the bill should wake up to the fact that Nigeria’s democracy has survived its longest incarnation because those who governed this great nation between 1999 and 2015 never toyed with this most fundamental of freedoms. It is prudent to build upon the tolerance inherited from those years and not shrink the democratic space to satisfy personal and group interests” he advised.”